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As demanding as parenthood has been for your mate, it has likely had even more impact on you. For starters, if you gave birth, you had the extraordinary task of building the most complex organ the body ever grows, using up to 80,000 extra calories to make your baby. If any nutrients were missing in the food you ate, they were extracted from you and given to your child. When your baby was born, your placenta – which was a huge hormone factory during pregnancy – was dropped into the doctors bucket, and within days after childbirth, your estrogen and progesterone dropped to a tiny fraction of their previous levels, gyrating the hormones that regulate everything from your mood when you wake up to how well you sleep at night.
If you breast-feed (about half of all mothers do – and we generally recommend it for its benefit to both your and your child), each day you use about 750 to 1000 extra calories: like running seven to ten miles day after day. Breast milk is rich in nutrients such as essential fatty acids, which are essential for your baby, but you need these, too, for a healthy body and positive mood. If you are not getting enough of these nutrients in your regular diet – and few moms with infants seem to have the time - your bodily reserves are drained every time you nurse.
Plus, as one mother put it. Real labor begins after birth. Each day, for twenty-plus years, you do several hundred specific child-rearing or housework tasks, from reading Winnie the Pooh to doing the dishes, and you probably go to bed wishing that somehow you could have done more. The more committed you are to being sensitive and responsive to your child, the more work there is. One mother told Rick: The biggest change was my sense that I had to always be present for and attentive to someone else, that I could never let down. I feel I am on call all the time.
Besides being time-consuming, the work of mothers is uniquely stressful; the comedian Martin Mull once joked. Having a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain. Your body has been on a roller coaster, from the first changes of pregnancy to the impact of childbirth and its new shape after you've become a mother. Breast-feeding rarely proceeds without one troublesome hitch or another, especially in the beginning. You're constantly interrupted and pulled in a dozen different directions, you feel responsible for everything, things keep changing, worries gnaw at your mind, and something upsetting happens several times each day. Any wobble with your children wears on you further. You are probably the one, not your partner, who stumbles down the hall at night to tend to a baby with an ear infection, deals with child care hassles, settles most squabbles between siblings, or worries about how to handle a preschooler's tantrums. As a result, mothers consistently report more stress than fathers, or women not raising children – especially if a child has any special needs, like colic, an illness, a disability, or a challenging temperament. And, of course, the more kids, the more work and stress.
Adding to the demands upon you, there's a good chance that you've got to juggle home and work. Over half of all mothers today will return to work before their baby's first birthday – yet doing so while raising an infant increases their risk for health problems, especially if they're already stretched, such as by being a single parent.
More on: Social and Emotional Development
From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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